About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

NORTH TO MAINE: NORTH PARSONSFIELD

THE BEST OF THE BEST
A number of years ago I accompanied friends to look at a house in rural Maine.  The village of North Parsonsfield is way off the beaten path but rich in architecture for more than one reason.

Arriving at the house we entered through the ell in the rear of the house.  I had no idea what we were about to see.
The Blazo-Leavitt house, circa 1900 (Wikipedia)

Similar view, circa 1990s
From the kitchen area in the ell a door was opened into the front hall.   I gasped and almost had to hold onto the door frame.  I had never seen such a beautiful hall!  It was spectacular with a sweeping hanging staircase.
Old photo showing front hall and door


 Looking toward the front door was the most beautiful fanlight with a paneled and grain painted front door flanked by sidelights.

Side hall intersects with main hall
The stairs themselves were grain painted and there was fantastic decorative painting throughout the house. 

One wall in the hall had a beautiful Federal period built-in with drawers; maybe a chest of drawers or perhaps a secretary recessed into the wall. 

A side hall intersected the main hall.  It led to another beautiful door topped by another beautiful fanlight, also with sidelights.

Throughout the house we viewed beautiful fireplaces and mantles.  More decorative painting, and lovely wallpapers further enhanced this spectacular house.  The moldings and intricately carved decoration took your breath away.

Grain painting on staircase
Over the next few weeks I returned to accompany others who were interested in purchasing the house but that was a long time ago.

The photos used in this post are mostly those I took sometime in the 1990s supplemented by others found on the Internet.  Many are more flawed than I had hoped for after being stuck together for twenty years.

A few days ago I was searching the Internet for a friend who wants to find a country house in Maine.  There it was!  Apparently the house was recently on the market again but  not for sale at this time.  It is unoccupied.


Detail of finest molding on staircase (Internet photo)
One of the front rooms in the house was particularly pleasing with beautiful wallpaper and enhanced by the best decorative grain painting on fireplace front and window seats as well as the beautiful grain painted doors.

Decorative panels above the window seat and
below the mantle.
I called my friend who had looked at it so many years ago as a possible buyer.  We got excited all over again reminiscing about this fabulous house.  She hit the Internet and much to our delight there was a lot to find, including a descendant of the original family, a poet, who has published a memoir of the house available on Amazon for about $6.00.  (Two of them sold yesterday as my friend and I both ordered a copy)

The house is well documented and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it well should be.

The housewright who built the house was Thomas Eaton who also built Wallingford Farm in Kennebunkport and other important buildings.  The designs were from Asher Benjamin who published America's first pattern book, "The Country Builders' Assistant" in 1797 giving country architects unfamiliar with Boston, Salem or Newburyport the ability to create beautiful houses and churches far from the centers of influence at that time.

Beautiful pair of matched grain
painted doors

The formal name of this house is the Blazo-Leavitt house.  The ell was built in 1812 and the main part of the house in 1817.  The house is located at a rural intersection.  On the opposite side of the street is an old school, Parsonsfield Academy.
More grain painting on the doors in green room

As I worked on this post and scanned my old photos  I decided to take a look at the recent real estate photos online taken in September 2013.

Oh, no! Much to my horror, I am unable to find a trace of the fantastic decorative painted which adorned this house. The front staircase has clearly been painted.

How could anyone have the nerve to undo what was so beautiful and  remained intact for 150 years!  I am at a loss for words.

Whatever the case I will complete this post so all can appreciate what was.





Parlor when last descendants lived there  (Internet photo)

Built-in drawers resemble a piece of fine Federal furniture
Another room was a soft green.  There was grain painting beneath the mantle and more grain painting on the recessed window alcoves.  The molding surrounding the windows and chair rail is nothing short of spectacular.  The windows are fitted with pocket shutters that slide out of the wall.
Formal fireplace with grain painting, splendid moldings and pocket shutters. Granite lintel and old jamb hooks, columns
beneath the mantle


Imagine a room with built in grain painted drawers in the Federal taste with original hardware visible when the closet door is opened. 
     
There  are other rooms to be mentioned.  The bedrooms are numerous and each was decorated in a different color.  They are attractive but not nearly as charming now as in the very old pictures I have seen when there was wallpaper on the walls.  In this day and age many don't realize that beautiful wallpapers were correct in houses of the early to mid 19th century and beyond.  Perhaps it is out of favor today but there is a place for wallpaper in an antique house.

I have a recollection of a kitchen in the ell with a huge fireplace with a big granite lintel but have found no photo to support that memory.

Below are photos of a blue room, a red room and a salmon room.  The salmon is an especially good color for a Federal period house.
Typical Federal mantle with fine molding
that is not visible in the photo
 




The photo below is a close-up of the molding to show
the incredible detail in this fine woodwork.





Detail of fine molding inn blue room








































The red room
Pretty salmon walls
The crowning glory of the second floor is the Palladian window above the front door, the window seat beneath and the graceful curve of the balustrade as it swoops around the head of the staircase. There is much fancy woodwork.
The house was built by William Blazo whose ancestors had come to America from Bordeaux, France.  It
passed down through numerous generations of the original family until 1973 when it was sold out of the family to others.  During this more that 150 year span of time, antiques and family heirlooms had remained as each generation left its mark on the house and its contents.

Although it is not in the hands of the original family any longer the descendants have not forgotten this wonderful house where they spent carefree summers in the country.  From the house they could see a distant mountain in New Hampshire, the foothills of the White Mountains.

Distant mountain is the view from the house
Parsonsfield is a very small rural town near the New Hampshire border.  It is a short distance west to Effingham, another town with beautiful Federal architecture.  On the east is the town of Limerick, ME about an hour from Portland

In addition to spectacular Federal period houses another reason to admire Parsonsfield is the evidence of numerous hand painted wall murals in the style of Rufus Porter but actually painted by his nephew, Jonathan Poor.  There are several houses with beautiful examples of his work.  He often signed his work and dated it leaving no doubt that he was the true artist and not Rufus Porter, the more familiar name.  The Blazo-Leavitt house does not have murals as far as I know but at least three other houses are lavishly decorated.  The artist who did the decorative grained painting may be unknown.

This house is unforgettable.  Some of the woodwork is reminiscent of the Ruggles house way Down East in Columbia Falls.  Here is my ecstatic friend twenty plus years ago practically jumping up and down as she admired the house, and with good reason.

Jumping for joy!
It is with sadness that I close this post with the feeling that a heavy hand has touched that house since I was there.  I not sure that any of the decorative painting, the crowning glory of that house, remains.  I hope I am wrong but if it still remains the most recent real estate person to handle the house didn't photograph it. I'm glad I have my old photos to remember it by.  And I am looking forward to the memoir that is coming my way in the mail from Amazon.

If there are readers out there who know what is going on with this house, please leave me a comment.

Thanks for reading.

Pru

PS  Here are some photos taken in Sept., 2913 from the Internet.  It is difficult to identify the rooms. You can see that the graining is missing.  It is now another huge house needing work.

Front room with no wallpaper or grain painting.  Floors sanded with no patina left. Cushions added to window seats
The staircase show no signs of decorative painting.  The door at the
rear of the hall appears enlarged.,  Black and white floor added
A formal room has become the kitchen with a tile floor higher than the hearth and the fireplace bricked up for a stove.


Post Script,   Feb. 3, 2014

My friend who saw this house years ago and I along with another friend took a road trip last Thursday and drove up to North Parsonsfield  (125 miles each way) to look around.  The house is empty and slightly forlorn, needing a paint job.  There is no for sale sign so its status is still unknown.  It is very rural but wonderfully serene and peaceful with a lovely view.  We saw neither cars or people.

























5 comments:

  1. What wonderful pictures of a beautiful home. The wallpaper and painted wood grain doors are especially inspiring. Your post is so important showing how quickly a home can be devalued by an owner who does not understand the importance of keeping historical features in place. I so hope the new owners have an understanding of what this home represents and are kind to it's historical integrity .

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  2. I've just come across your blog and have spent a happy hour here as a result of another search that led me to this post.

    I fear daily for these houses----the sensibility about place, location, and preservation have changed so dramatically over the last decade---and this post point up the problems facing some of our best early architecture. And the new taste for gut renovation makes me fear nothing will be left.

    wonderful post.

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    1. Thank you for your comment and I agree. Many architectural gems are under attack or being completely lost. Places like Newburyport, MA, restored with such care in the 1970s and 1980s, is suffering from a new generation of buyers, attracted by the beauty, then renovating their wonderful old houses with a heavy hand to suit their 21st century tastes with too much money and little respect for original fabric. It is happening everywhere.

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  3. These are amazing homes! I can feel their potential for even more beauty just from looking at your photos. But I subscribe to the commenter's statements above. Homes like these are disappearing due to various reasons, and we should advocate for their care and restoration. I feel that old homes like these are a cultural heritage, and like all other heritages, it must be protected. Thank you for posting these pictures!

    Scott @ Scottcauer.ca

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